The minister claimed that the opposition was taking up fake issues like Judge Loya's death, Rafale, EVMs. An election can't be fought on fake issues, he added.
With less than a month to go for the Lok Sabha polls, Union Finance Minister, in an exclusive interview with News18's Marya Shakil, addresses a wide range of issues.
Question 1: You wrote that this election is a clash of ideas and ideologies. Which topics is the BJP fighting on?
A: India's economic and social character is changing. In 2005, 18percent were in middle-class category. It will rise to 25 percent by 2024. People from lower strata of society are trying to make their lives better. People from lower strata of society want to migrate to the cities. They want to ensure better education for their children, send them to cities. They are trying to make lives of future generations better and more secure. We are growing at a greater speed and the world is recognising that. Today's politics is completely different from the politics of the past. If we analyse the 2014 elections, it was a Modi wave. Parties involved in caste-based politics were demolished. Even people from their own caste did not support such parties. Parties involved in dynastic politics whether in UP, Bihar or Delhi, were all decimated. Ideology, performance and values to be the core issues in upcoming elections. The family or background of a politician won't be the basis for votes. People will decide if a candidate has good policies or are simply doing drama. The truth will be decided by the people themselves. What you put on social media, reaches to youth in schools and colleges. This election and the ones that follow will have a very different character.
Question 2: Caste-based parties and family parties coming together in UP and Bihar. Will this affect BJP?
A: When society's status changes, when it wants to see development, there is a harsh judgement. Elections are not simply about arithmetic, they're about chemistry. On the ground, caste and myths about dynasty break down and make way for impactful governance. In dynasties, there is family politics and opposition from within. Confucius said just like the sky can only have one sun, earth can only have one ruler. In dynasties there can only be one ruler, if there are two, the impact is different. In Bihar there are two brothers, in UP there is a father and son. See what happened between them. If families are trying this formula, we can predict the end right now.
Question 3: What do you think of the equation between BSP and SP?
A: Despite having a huge vote bank, BSP didn't get any seats in Lok Sabha. They got 19 seats in Assembly polls. The Samajwadi party had a huge Muslim-Yadav vote bank. In a three or four cornered fight, these two communities could have made SP win. But they only got 5 family seats. Congress' dynasty was supposed to be very powerful in UP they only got 2 family seats. That is why the presence of such parties is shrinking. Even among those communities, the aspirational class are leaving. If you're just fighting on numbers without any agenda, people will ask one question. If this country can have development, it will be under whose guidance? This country is safer because it is under someone's guidance.
Question 4: Anti-incumbency is a phenomenon when unhappy people vote out an incumbent person and the opposition wins by default. So are you calling this a pro-incumbency election?
A: What we used to call anti-incumbency is not a permanent phenomenon. Anti-incumbency happens when a government's performance is poor and people are upset with it. If unhappy people think governance is bad and they should be voted out, the opposition wins by default. Pro-incumbency is an election when leadership and government's performance can be strictly analysed. People can choose that government again. Now that 5 years of Modi government are over, show me one opinion poll that says his personal rating is falling. After 5 years, there is still so much of a gap between PM Modi and the person who is in second place. As elections approach, all polls are showing that the situation is only improving from 6 months ago. Elections have one basic principle; hung parliaments and assemblies only exist on channels and opinion polls. The electorate is smarter than you and me. The electorate is decisive. In the last elections we started with 150 and then 180. Then the polls gave us 200-210.
Question 5: But the elections in Madhya Pradesh were a cliffhanger.
A: It wasn't a case of anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh. Both the parties had almost equal number of votes. Sometimes anti-incumbency is on a candidate-level. When you're in power for 15 years, a section of people get upset. This election will be of a different formula and chemistry. You have a government that has governed with honesty, taken tough decisions. This government has made India the world's fastest growing economic power. The corrupt who thought they could evade, were brought back into the system. Defence spending increased, infrastructure improved and the poor were given resources. I can guarantee that no government in India has done the same.
Question 6: Alliances are being made in every state, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, in order to beat the BJP. Even in Tamil Nadu.
A: Political parties can be negative but people cannot be. Biggest pro-incumbency argument is that even after 5 years, people are afraid of your strength. They are so worried by PM Modi's popularity. We should analyse the alliances that you talk of.
Question 7: You've said Mayawati is strengthening BSP and she wants to make Congress weak. She holds her cards close to her chest and will show them only when results are declared.
A: This isn't an alliance, it's a coalition of rivals. Smaller alliances are pulling each other’s legs. Mamata's politics is 'I won't give you a single seat, I will maximise my seats and want your seats decreased. Mayawati's politics is 'I have made a strategic alliance in UP to increase my seats and will put up my candidates across the country. People are saying Mayawati may even put up her candidate in Amethi. Congress' politics is – ‘Where I am weak, I will be a part of any alliance.’ All 3 parties have the same objective – to increase own strength and reduce strength of all parties against BJP. This is all so that in a tug of war, they can claim a bigger stake. In 2014 Pawar said he won't be running for the Lok Sabha elections. He thought if things got chaotic, maybe his wish would come true. So later he announced he will run. Then family bickering and opposition from within happened. So now Pawar is saying he won't contest. In the sky, there can only be one sun and not two. This coalition of rivals have no politics, or a manifesto, or a good past performance to speak for. They don't have one leader who can take them forward. Before the elections, they are only engaged in bringing each other down. Are they only trying to bring chaos in the country? Charan Singh, Chandrashekhar, VP Singh, Deve Gowda, Gujral were all tried, tested and failed ideas. A coalition of rivals just won't work for an aspirational society.
Question 8: After this 'tried and tested' idea, they brought in Priyanka Gandhi. Maybe they were done with the tried and tested?
A: Maybe due to some internal issue, Priyanka Gandhi was never tried and tested. But it's like they've given her a piece of land and told her to go farming. This is the outcome of the 'tried and tested'.
Question 9: Will BJP have special focus on Rae Bareli?
A: All constituencies are the focus of the BJP. That's why we are the party with a difference. BJP is a big political party and the NDA's nucleus is strong. The entire alliance accepts Modi as PM. We have shown generosity towards allies, even given our sitting seats to them. We have brought a national coalition to the Northeast. In the future, 3-4 people from the Northeast can become central ministers and work for their states. That is the very meaning of a parliamentary democracy.
Question 10: BJD, TRS, YSRCP are all not with the Mahagathbandhan - so are these your potential post-poll allies?
A: Every state party tries to come to the centre with the idea of benefiting the country. These parties are trying to take care of their own states. I can't say what will happen tomorrow and if we will need them or not. But we know how to exist with regional parties. When we brought GST, we made sure that 42% of resources go to the states. States questioned why Congress wasn't able to make this happen. States were worried about what will happen to their revenue. I put in constitutional guarantee that for first 5 years, revenue will grow by 14%. Even the states against BJP could not claim any discrimination. Finance Commission said Andhra could not have special status. I took out another formula, instead of special status we said we will give a special package. This special package would give Andhra as much money as special status would have. Naidu first welcomed this by writing a letter and thanked me in a press conference. When Naidu wanted to make a political change, he said no and made it an issue again. This change of stand was made from a political perspective.
Question 11: So all doors closed to the TDP?
A: TDP have chosen their own path, see how much of a presence they will have post elections. I don't think there is any hope for a conversation with TDP.
Question 12: Rahul Gandhi called GST 'Gabbar Singh Tax'.
A: I challenge such people to give a 10-minute speech. They need to know how amalgamation of taxes has helped the country. GST has helped end any harassment, there are no barriers now. This government is the first to not increase income tax by even 1%. We have instead lowered taxes and improved tax collection by 80-90%.
Question 13: Opposition claims this government is hiding its failures by putting the spotlight on nationalism and terrorism
A: The opposition has no agenda left. They are taking up fake issues like Judge Loya's death, Rafale, EVMs. An election can't be fought on fake issues. Pulwama was a terror attack. What kind of reaction did the opposition want? There was a certain emotion in the country after the Pulwama attack. PM gave the nod to the air force to cross the international border. There is no link between the Balakot strike and Pulwama attack. The perpetrators of the Pulwama attack were eliminated on Indian soil. We had intelligence of a Jaish camp where fidayeens were being trained to target India. Sitting on such information would've amounted to betraying the country. With utmost precision, the air force did a brave act and the country should be proud. It's unfortunate that those against PM Modi are not standing with the country and are tools in Pakistan's hands. Just like Pakistan, the opposition claims the strikes were carried out with a political purpose. When Pakistan asked for proof of Balakot strike, the Opposition did the same. News channels have done investigations, shown before and after pictures, interviewed locals in Balakot.
Question 14: But, the New York Times and The Guardian said it was unclear if anything significant had been hit by the fighter jets.
A: Those sitting at their desk and doing relaxed journalism can write anything. Rather than trusting space-filler columns, I would trust scientific evidence. Indian Air Force Chief said we went to bomb a target, that's the final word. News channels interviewed locals and used independent satellites to find the truth. Masood Azhar's brother gave a speech admitting that their camp was targeted. If Masood Azhar's family can accept it, but Rahul Gandhi can't, it's misfortune for the country.
Question 15: The public thinks that when the Air Force Chief says it, a strike happened.
A: If there was no strike, why did Pakistan send their F16s here? Why did Pakistan tell the world that India had crossed the border? Why did Pakistan have an extended parliament session on the strikes? Pakistan lied because their government is controlled by the army. Pakistan army doesn't want to tell the world that we destroyed terror camps. If Pakistan had admitted to the strikes, they would be asked what was the damage.
Question 16: Imran Khan says the sole purpose of their jets entering India was to show that they can retaliate too. Are you convinced with this argument?
A: Pakistan's retaliatory action was extremely botched up. When we struck Balakot, IAF knew Pakistan would retaliate. When Pakistan F-16s came on Feb 27, our fighter jets were ready. As soon as they got the alert, our jets swung into action. When the Pakistan air force saw our aggression, they turned back. Our brave pilot shot down an F16 and kept chasing them away till his plane was attacked. Two F-16 pilots ejected first, our pilot ejected a bit later. To save face, even before the civilian government could react, Pakistan army claimed nothing happened. The public there thought all 3 pilots were from India, they thought the army rescued one pilot. What happened to the other two? Pakistan were confused about who was shot and how many were captured. Pakistan later admitted to having only one Indian pilot in their custody. So how could two aircraft be destroyed if there was only one pilot? Those who are trying to form Mahagathbandhan shouldn't become military statisticians. Biggest demand of the opposition was a body count, they can't be more foolish. The air force's job is to strike the target and come back. It is not the air force's job to land and count have many have died. What interest do we have in counting the corpses? We can have an assessment as to how many people were there. Whether or not anybody would have survived can be an assessment. But why reduce the entire debate to a frivolous issue like body count? Would those who had prior information, be able to go to the spot and do a body count later when the Pakistan military has surrounded us? Next time we will say send someone from Mahagathbandhan to verify the number of corpses.
Question 17: There is discussion that the government has all the resources, including satellite monitoring of the area.
A: I feel this would not be fair to the country. Military operations are never made public. How many of our planes went, what was their make, what missiles were used - why should we share this? Why would we declare what evidence was collected by our satellite and aircraft? Secrecy of military or intelligence operations is for the country's benefit.
Rahul Gandhi was wrong in claiming that Ajit Doval went to Kandahar. When a plane is hijacked, it's a national security issue. Doval was only the additional director of IB at the time, there were people above him. Our intelligence network was working in the background.
Rahul Gandhi didn't end up scoring a political point. By making a false statement, rahul gandhi has put lives at risk. Due to his frustration, Rahul Gandhi is unaware of the consequences of his words.
Question 18: How do you plan to tackle this?
A: I have been the defence minister twice, i am in the CCS. There are a lot of facts that will leave this world after I am gone. We can't even talk about it with our family, that would be treason. Will you have a TV debate on the intelligence people who were involved?
Question 19: Do you see what happened with Masood Azhar at the UN as a setback for Indian diplomacy?
A: This is an old stand of China's, I consider Indian diplomacy an absolute success. Not a single country has said we were wrong in crossing the LOC. We wanted sanctity of LOC to be maintained, but Pakistan would attack daily and kill our people. Every country criticized Pakistan, even nations which are their friends, gave neutral statements. The biggest achievement is that despite Pakistan's objection, the OIC invited Sushma Swaraj.
No country in the OIC backed Pakistan's boycott call.
At the UNSC, all members spoke in one voice. Only China had the same stand as it did even during UPA. China has its reasons to help Pakistan in the terror debate and increase their economic control over them. Pakistani economists say CPEC is a big debt trap that Pakistan will fall into.
We have suffered at the hands of the East India Company, other countries can suffer too.
Question 20: If we talk about the Wuhan spirit, is China's move to block the ban on Azhar, the act of a friend?
A: We have our own issue with China, we have several areas of agreement and co-operation. We have an ongoing relationship, there are some grounds for disagreement too.
Question 21: There is some confusion regarding the Lok Sabha polls. Will those over the age of 75 years get tickets?
A: Our parliamentary board and election committee is scheduled to meet thrice. You will get to know everything after the meetings. It's not possible for me to announce something before the meetings.
Question 22: Since the 2002 Gujarat elections, you have a policy that there is anti-incumbency against sitting MPs or MLAs.
A: The chances of winning is certainly a relevant criteria and will remain so.
Question 23: Are you thinking of a shake-up in ticket distribution to counter the Mahagathbandhan?
A: There is no set formula, those with maximum chances of winning will naturally get tickets. We are in politics after all.
Question 24: Is there a possibility of fielding fresh faces in Haryana, Punjab and J&K?
A: The BJP is a cadre-based party with maximum flexibility. There is scope of lateral entry into the party. We use every election as an opportunity to induct new people. If we are limited to our cadre, we won't be able to attract voters in different parts of society.
Question 25: You have formed a rainbow coalition in Tamil Nadu. But this AIADMK is not the same as when Jayalalithaa was alive. Is there a realisation that this alliance may only get you a toehold in the state?
A: Our priority is to strengthen BJP in every state. During the Jan Sangh, there was politics of isolation. We won 166 seats in 1996, Vajpayee became the PM for 13 days. Apart from Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal, no one supported us. When we reached 183 seats, we gained 24 allies. We've remained in the centrestage since, we have understood power-sharing in central and state-levels.
The Northeast, Bihar, Punjab, UP are all examples of that. The states where our strength was less, like in West Bengal, we hardly got 2-4% votes 10 years ago. Our vote share in Bengal has gone up to 16%, we've marginalised Left and Congress. In Assam, we have become the primary party. We were a small party in Odisha, but today we can give the BJD a tough fight.
Coalitions in states are done on principle by regional parties, that's not the case with us. At least 80% of the Mahagathbandhan like Mayawati, Mamata, Naidu, DMK have worked with us in the past.
Question 26: The government is being asked a lot of questions on unemployment and farmer distress.
A: The opposition only raises fake issues like Rafale and EVM, they claim institutions are in danger. The opposition abuses the Election Commission and criticises the Supreme Court.
I read a letter from Tejashwi Yadav to Rahul Gandhi to boycott the media because it has become fake. The opposition attacks the media, EC and SC and then claims that institutions are under attack.
We are growing at the rate of 7-7.5% every year unlike any other country. If you take an average, the economy has expanded in these last 5 years. Productivity of the nation increased, so can we employ only half the people and have 10 times the output? CII just released its report outlining how many jobs were produced in the last 5 years.
Question 27: There was NSSO as well.
A: The real proof is who will come in the formal sector, will give PF and come under EPFO. The number of people under EPFO are increasing every year. You give Mudra loans to 13 crore people for self-employment, but no jobs were created? There has not been a single big movement against the government.
When there are no jobs, there is social unrest. Where is that now? If there was some big social unrest, would you see pro-incumbency? We have distributed Rs 1,90,000 crore worth low-cost grains as well as subsidized food. Rs 60,000 crore was set aside for MNREGA and given to rural areas.
We will give Rs 6,000 to every small farmer which means Rs 75,000 crore more in rural areas. We have connected villages with roads, homes with toilets, electricity and cooking gas. All BPL card holders will have homes by 2022. 50 crore people will get free hospital treatment.
Ayushman Bharat has not reached the people of West Bengal. The leader of bengal is against the Centre and so will oppress farmers and not take a penny from Centre.
Karnataka sent a list of three farmers first, even now their list is of only 60,000-70,000 farmers.
Economic formulation of the Modi government will strengthen the country's economy. The idea is to reduce taxes and transfer the resources towards the poor and rural areas.
Since Indira Gandhi's time, Congress has given slogans to the poor. We have given them resources.
Question 28: It's being said that this a similar moment for BJP as that of India Shining in 2004.
A: That we will get to know on May 23. The opposition has nothing but fake issues. Fake issues are picked up and the opposition speaks on it.
Question 29: In 2014, there was a Modi wave. Is there a Modi wave in these elections?
A: There is a wave. But the media will understand that only on results day. Those in politics can see the wave beforehand.
Question 30: Is there any parallel to the 2019 election in the history of India?
A: I consider three elections as the closest to this year's elections — 2 domestic, one international.
I think this election is a reverse of 1971. That was the first election in which I worked as a student activist.
All opposition parties came together in that election. At that time, we said it was a grand alliance and Indira Gandhi would be defeated. People were with Indira Gandhi, she won 320+ seats and we were nowhere.
2014 was an election of hope, we put our faith in one person. He has made no mistake and has led a strong and honest government.
My third example was when Margaret Thatcher was removed and John Major came to power. Fear of the opponent made the conservatives win, which was contrary to all the polls.
When people see this absurd coalition, they think we don't need a six-month government but a 5-year one. This country has a five-time history of six-month governments.
Question 31: Do you think what has happened in UNSC will have consequences on Chinese goods in the Indian market?
A: That is a diplomatic issue which India will take after deliberation. Foreign policy cannot be knee-jerk. The Congress president has suggested foreign policy through his tweets. God save the country if foreign policy decisions are taken via tweets.
Question 32: What happens to India and China's trade equation?
A: These are measured and not knee-jerk reactions. Those who deal with it will have deeper considerations.
Question 33: What is your forecast for the elections?
A: I believe the choice before the people of India is very clear. I have written that the choice is Modi or chaos.
Question 34: The opposition says BJP will be a goner on May 23.
A: The opposition speaks with a lot of negativity, I don't expect anything positive from them.